It’s easy to get lost in the seemingly infinite aisles of Mercado de la Merced. The largest market in Mexico City has everything from piles of fresh mole to a surprisingly large shoe section to insect delicacies such as crunchy chapulines and creamy escamoles. But if you navigate beyond the aroma of dangling peppers, past the sounds of butchers slicing meat for succulent tacos de cabeza and men playing games in one of the many mini arcades, you’ll find yourself in a Willy Wonka–esque wonderland of all things sweet.
The sprawling section is a feast for the senses. Multicolored piñatas and lollipops dangle overhead, while aromas of citrus, sugar, and spice waft from stalls. There’s a treat for every palate: Baskets overflow with homemade coconut-stuffed limes, peanut brittle (palanqueta), sticks of creamy, caramel-filled dulce de leche, and chili- or sugar-coated tamarind balls. Many of the offerings, from bright candied fruit to boxes of commercial sweets, are stacked in tantalizing mountains.
Those who might be minding their cavities or calories should seek out the towers of alegrías. These slightly sweet snacks blend amaranth with honey, nuts, and raisins to form an energy bar that’s fueled Mexicans for centuries. Some of the versions at the market also add chocolate for extra richness. The bars, as well as many items in in the sweets section, are often sold in bulk at a steep discount.
Know Before You Go
If you're having problems locating the sweets section, just look or ask for Santo Tomás Apóstol La Palma, a beautiful 17th-century church that's located right next to it.